My 190 Knot Cessna 210

Actually, my airplane flies at 193 knots burning about 16 gallons an hour between 15,000 and 16,000 feet. My plane is powered by a Turbo Normalized 550F built by Western Skyways. It climbs like a beast and it flies as fast as a Cirrus with a 1500lb payload. In addition, my Western Skyways 550F will pay for itself from the money I save on fuel in comparison to the TSIO 520.

There is an enormous amount of time that went into the research needed to make the best-informed conclusions possible. I will share all of my research so you can see my entire thought process. In order to do so, I need to start from the beginning. Please allow me the opportunity to tell you a short story.

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It all started when I decided to buy a 2nd Cessna 210. About 8 years ago my friend enticed me to pilot my 210 to a fishing hole he found down in Baja. He would handle all ground accommodations and I would handle getting us there. It sounded like a no-brainer, so I accepted his proposal.

The flight down to Baja was uneventful. The skies were blue and the landing was perfect. Unfortunately, when the time came to leave this wonderful place in Baja, I came to discover that someone wanted my airplane more than I did. When we showed up to the airport to leave, my plane was gone – someone had stolen it.

After an eight-year hiatus, I decided to buy another plane. There were so many wiz-bang do-dads that choosing an airplane to buy was difficult. I needed a plane to carry four people with baggage, a dog and an occasional bicycle. I needed something fast and IFR capable.

Purchasing the plane

Given the need to carry four people with luggage and a dog, there was no way a Cirrus could fulfill my typical flight mission, especially with the bicycle. I considered the Cessna 206 but the plane was way too slow — so I went back to the tried and true Cessna 210.

Drawing of a Cessna plane with 4 people, 4 suitcases, a dog, and a bicycle
Cessna capacity
Drawing of a Cirrus plane with 2 people and 2 suitcases
X Cirrus capacity

Digging deeper into owning another Cessna 210, I came across the 550-engine conversion. I discovered only 3 shops that offer a 550 conversion — one offers a turbo-normalized version 550P and another offers a normally aspirated 550P. A third shop — Western Skyways — offers a turbo-normalized 550F.

As part of my research, I obtained pilot reports from numerous pilots who were flying the 550P and the 550F conversions. Pilots were reporting for the most part, the 550-engine upgrade for the Cessna 210 gets almost the same true airspeeds as the Cirrus. Also, the turbo-normalized 550 outperformed the normally aspirated version at higher altitudes. This immediately eliminated the normally aspirated 550P as a potential upgrade. Not only that, the normally aspirated 550P was damn expensive.

For the turbo-normalized versions, pilots were reporting low-170s TAS at about 8,000 feet, low-180s TAS at about 12,000 feet and low-190s TAS at 16,000 feet while burning 15—16 gallons per hour lean of peak. With a turbo-normalized 550 engine, the Cessna 210 had similar true airspeeds to the Cirrus but with the huge payload the 210 is known for. After hearing this, my plan became clear — purchase a Cessna T210 with an engine at or past TBO and install a turbo-normalized 550 conversion. The question was: which shop and which conversion? The 550P or the 550F?

Western Skyways TN-550F was the Best Choice

Photo of Cessna plane in front of Western Skyways hangar

I spent countless hours communicating with Atlantic Aero, Vitatoe Aviation, and Western Skyways regarding their 550 conversions. I also surveyed RAM Air, Victor Engines and Performance Aero, as well as other repair shops regarding everything from cylinder heads to TBO times, and cranks to cases. After completing my research, I concluded that Western Skyways made a better engine, had better customer service and a better warranty process than any of the competitors. Western Skyways took the Continental engine to a much higher level.

I found that Continental spends the majority of their resources manufacturing the parts for the engine while Western Skyways spends the majority of their resources fine tuning the parts, balancing the engine, and bringing it to a higher level. Western Skyways 550F flew just as fast as the 550P and I could buy it at a price and still pay for an avionics upgrade for the same price as the 550P.

There were multiple reasons why I chose Western Skyways.

1 Western Skyways uses Superior Cylinders

Continental Jug Graveyard

This is a bigger deal than you might think. I called and emailed several of the larger engine builders as well as different mechanics regarding the best cylinder heads to have in an engine. I communicated with Victor Aviation, RAM Air as well as three other engine builders. I asked them all the same question – out of 100 cylinders, how many factory Continental heads do you think will crack and require early replacement? All of the engine builders surveyed gave me very similar answers. They all responded by saying approximately 7 to 9 factory Continental heads out of 100 will typically crack and/or require early replacement. The cracks typically occur between a fuel injection port and the exhaust port. This is a problem for the 550P because the 550P used by Vitatoe and Atlantic has Continental OEM cylinders, there are no aftermarket options.

With respect to the Superior cylinders, the engine builders I surveyed reported only 2 to 3 Superior heads out of 100 will typically require early replacement. I read in a “Cessna Pilots Association” magazine (December 2017) that “Superior has sold over 100,000 Millennium cylinders…with no cracks reported and a mere handful requiring warranty attention.”

Western Skyways uses Superior cylinder heads when they build their 550F. In fact, Western Skyways is the only company that builds a TN-550 for the Cessna 210 that uses Superior cylinder heads. I want an engine with the best parts and the lowest probability of failure. Based on my survey of engine builders, an engine with the Superior cylinders is the best choice. Not only that, the Superior cylinders are less expensive than the OEM Continental cylinders should I ever need to replace them.

2 Western Skyways Balances Piston and Rod Assemblies and Dynamically Balances the Engine

Photo of a man working on an engine
Test Facility - New Engines are run in this area. Crank case is pressurized to identify any oil leaks prior to flight

If you ask an engine builder if they balance their engine the answer is either “yes, we do” or “no, we don’t” and they should be prepared to tell you their specs for balancing. As part of my research, I asked Catherine Woodall from Continental and Eric Barker of Western Skyways this very question.

When I asked Eric Barker this question, he stated unequivocally “yes, we balance opposing pistons, pins, counterweights, counterweight pins and rods.” Barker also stated “not only are the connecting rods balanced, but Western Skyways isolates the weights of the big end of the rods AND the overall weight of each rod to make sure the opposing rod is also the same.” All of these parts are matched to a maximum difference of 1 gram between opposing piston and rod assemblies. In addition, the crankshaft is dynamically balanced. Dynamic balancing is correcting the rotational forces of the whole engine together.

I’ve raced motorcycles and been on a car racing pit team and I understand the importance of static and dynamic balancing. When you statically balance opposing piston and rod assemblies (rod, piston, piston pins, counterweights, counterweight pins and rings) and dynamically balance the engine with the prop attached, your engine transmits more power to the prop, runs smoother, lasts longer, and the risk of failure is reduced. Plain and simple.

When I asked Catherine Woodall if Continental balanced the engine, she would only tell me that their pistons have “a maximum weight difference of 2 grams between pistons within an engine set.” Catherine Woodall said NOTHING about rod assemblies.

I also asked Catherine Woodall if the crank was balanced dynamically, if the engine had balanced rod assemblies and to what specifications. She replied, “We consider just about everything else proprietary information.”

Unbalanced engines produce damage from vibrational effects that shorten the life of an engine and increase the risk of costly repairs or worse, engine failure. If you want to get as much life out of your engine with the least risk of cracking, making metal or failure, the engine needs to be balanced both statically and dynamically.

Being that Continental wasn’t willing to release the specs of the engines they produce, there is no way to know what you get with a Continental factory engine. One of the engine builders I spoke with familiar with Continental’s assembly practices opined that opposing rod assemblies could be out of balance as much as 10 to 20 grams, which may be why they told me that their balancing specs were “proprietary information.” In addition, I didn’t feel comfortable buying an engine and not knowing the balancing specs. This is another reason why I chose Western Skyways.

3 Western Skyways’ Overhaul is Better than a factory-reman

Photo of a cart holding various metal parts
Every part, washer bolt and spring is accounted for when rebuilding an engine. Western Skyways also has a 200+ checklist for quality control. The checklist is signed off by a mechanic and checked by a second person before proceeding to the next phase of assembly.

I read Lie #10 in an article written by Mike Busch from “Savvy Aviation,” arguably the best A&P/IA in general aviation today. Mike Busch opines that there is no benefit to having a factory reman over a field overhauled engine. Below is the link. I recommend you read it. It will only take a minute or two.

https://www.avweb.com/news/maint/182849-1.html

Mikes article discusses the process by which a factory reman takes place. Different parts, from different engines, with different times on different parts are assembled to create a factory reman. None of the parts from a factory reman can be traced to its origin.

This is different from the Western Skyways process. Did I get a new crank? Overhauled crank? Where did my fuel pump come from? Where did the cases come from? This is another reason I chose Western Skyways 550F over the 550P.

4 Western Skyways has better Warranty and Customer Service

Photo of the fuel flow test bench
Fuel Flow Test Bench. The Fuel system is run and operated as if it were flying. Full power, idle cut off and every phase in between. Fuel Nozzles are also tuned using this bench.

A close friend of mine flies a Bonanza. He was hell-bent on purchasing a factory reman from Continental. He bought his factory reman at what I thought was a stupid price. Nonetheless, he installed the engine and began to fly the plane.

About 800 hours after install, the plane started making some metal. This was discovered during a routine oil change and an oil analysis. The amount of metal found in the oil analysis was enough to ground the plane immediately.

My friend and his mechanic contacted Continental Engines to discuss the warranty. Continental asked to have the engine shipped to them for forensics. So, my friend paid to have his engine removed and shipped to the Continental factory. Continental informed my friend they would need a week or two. Well… a week or two turned into a few weeks, which turned into a few more weeks. A few more weeks turned into a couple months. Continental kept delaying and would not provide my friend with any answer. All the while my friend was unable to fly his plane.

Enter the attorney. More costs expended by my friend. After hiring an attorney to badger Continental, my friend finally heard back. After six months and the cost of an attorney, Continental finally agreed to settle. According to my friend, Continental settled for “pennies on the dollar.” After paying for his attorney, shipping costs, and labor to uninstall the defective engine my friend didn’t make out too well.

Since writing this blog, I’ve had a warranty issue come up with my 550F. The turbo controller, which was new from a third-party vendor at the time my engine was built, was acting up. About an hour into a flight, manifold pressure would begin to vary — and it only happened while lean of peak. Nothing life threatening — more of a nuisance.

Every mechanic who looked at the plane, all of whom claimed to be “Cessna specialists,” were convinced it was vapor in the fuel lines. One mechanic speculated that it was the fuel pump. I called Eric Barker at Western Skyways to discuss the issue.

Eric flew the plane and tried all sorts of things with the engine. As he would try one thing, he would say, “Okay, it’s doing what it’s supposed to do.” Then he would try something different and discover “it’s not supposed to do that.” As I mentioned, I did my own wrenching when I raced motorcycles and worked on a race car pit team. Having said that, I had no idea what Eric was doing and the conclusions he was drawing.

After the flight, Eric discussed his findings with Al Head (one of the owners of Western Skyways) and Ryan Dickerson (Ryan is also a tech at Savvy Aviation). By the end of the day, they concluded it was the turbo controller.

Western Skyways installed the new turbo controller, test flew the aircraft and I was back in the air by the next day. After they replaced the turbo controller, the engine flew perfectly. If you think you’ll get that kind of service from Continental…. let me know how that works out for you.

Regarding the warranty of the 550P vs. Western Skyways 550F, here are a few important points to consider:

  1. If you buy the 550P, the engine warranty is handled by Continental, not the vendor that sold you the upgrade. The vendor that sells you the 550 is only you’re your first point of contact for Continental.
  2. Continental will never have a rep test fly your plane to help diagnose the problem. They will need you to uninstall the engine and ship it to them. If not, you will need to rely on local mechanics to troubleshoot the problem.

    Don’t get me wrong, local mechanics are great, and there are some really good ones out there - they are more than capable of troubleshooting a “garden variety” engine problem. However, if the problem is not of the garden variety, then troubleshooting may be more challenging.

    Case-in-point – My turbo controller issue was NOT garden variety. Every mechanic thought the problem was related to vapor in the fuel, the leaning control unit, leaning control cable or the fuel pump. A large part of the problem is that I’ve never had a mechanic personally fly my plane and try different inputs to the engine to better see and understand the problem. I don’t know what inputs to try that would help narrow down the issues. Local mechanics rely on the data I report to troubleshoot the problem, which is never a complete picture when you have an “out of the ordinary” problem.

    More importantly, with Eric, Ryan and Al collectively looking at a problem, in my opinion, there is no single mechanic anywhere that can troubleshoot better than they can. This includes the factory.
  3. Western Skyways acted immediately – not in 6 months and I didn’t have to hire an attorney

5 I saved about $40,000 with the Western Skyways TN-550F

Digital display screen of gauges from an Aspen
Aspen showing TAS of 178 knots at 11,000 ft. Hot day at 12° celcius. Power settings 32" MP and 2400 RPM.

The Western Skyways TN-550F flies just as fast as the 550P for a lot less money. In fact, the money you save buying a 550F from Western Skyways as opposed to Atlantic or Vitatoe is enough to pay for an entire avionics upgrade. I fitted my plane with the 550F, a new Aspen, GTX 345, Garmin Flitestream, CO monitor, USB charging ports, backup alternator, two Garmin G5s and a new custom metal panel for the same price as a 550P. In addition, the TN-550 from Western Skyways is a better engine than the 550P. The Western Skyways TN-550F is statically and dynamically balanced and the Western Skyways 550F has Millennium cylinders, the 550P does not. The Western Skyways 550F is about $40,000 cheaper than the 550P and, more importantly, I feel much more comfortable calling Eric Barker from Western Skyways regarding a warranty issue as opposed to the Continental factory.

As quoted in “Cessna Pilots Association Magazine,” December 2017, Jim Cavanaugh states, ”…aftermarket companies enjoy the ability to study the original OEM parts, determine weaknesses and redesign a part to be stronger, last longer and still fit.” Western Skyways has done just that with their 550F. Western Skyways has studied the Continental engine by rebuilding tens of thousands of engines and found ways to make it better. I believe in Western Skyways and I believe in their engines and their service. For me, Western Skyways was the smarter choice and the more economical choice.

Flying the Western Skyways TN-550F

My Cessna 210 is fast. Plane and simple. It flies about as fast as a Cirrus and has a 1500 lb useful load. With a TN-550F, the Cessna 210 provides the best utility of just about any single engine in its class. How fast you ask? Look at the true airspeeds obtained from my Aspen PFD.

During cruise climb I typically indicate 130 and get 700 to 750 FPM climb rate. When I take off with 20 degrees of flaps, I climb at about 1100 FPM indicating 60 knots. Missed approaches are flown at 25” MAP climbing at 500 FPM indicating 120.

True airspeeds obtained from my Aspen PFD
Altitude True airspeed Fuel burn
8,000 feet 173—176 knots 15–16 GPH
10,000 feet 177—180 knots 15–16 GPH
12,000 feet 181–184 knots 15–16 GPH
14,000 feet 185–188 knots 15–16 GPH
16,000 feet 189–192 knots 15–16 GPH

The Western Skyways TN-550F Will Pay for Itself

Photo of a plane engine
Engine View - pilot side after install

The TN-550F will pay for itself from fuel savings compared to the TSIO 520. Here are the calculations:

The majority of my missions are 350 nautical miles in length and I usually fly them at about 10,000 feet. I usually fly roundtrip missions to this destination twice per month.

When I had the TSIO 520, I would burn 82 gallons of fuel round trip. In the course of a month, I would burn 164 gallons of fuel. Over 14 years, I would burn 27,552 gallons of fuel.

In my Western Skyways TN-550F, at 10,000 feet, I get a true airspeed of about 177 knots burning 15.2 gallons per hour. Flying two roundtrip missions 350 nautical miles away, twice per month, I will burn 120 gallons of fuel which is 20,197 gallons of fuel over 14 years. In the Western Skyways turbo-normalized engine, I burn 7354 gallons less than the TSIO 520. At $5.00 per gallon (a conservative number because gas will probably be $10 per gallon in 10 years) that’s a savings of $37,770 over the next 14 years. If the price of gas averages $7 per gallon over the next 14 years, the savings is $51,000 – more than enough to pay for the difference between a rebuilt TSIO 520 and a TN-550F. So…I figured I would pay for the TN-550 upgrade one way or the other. I would pay for it now and fly fast, or I could spend the same amount of money on a 520 and the additional fuel I’d need to fly.

Not only that, the old TSIO 520 would typically have a true airspeed of 155 knots. Round trip, I would fly roughly 4.5 hours. With the old TSIO 520, I could make this trip roughly 311 times before hitting a TBO of 1400 hours.

Because the TN-550F has a true airspeed of 177 knots flying at 10,000 feet MSL (typical altitude for this mission), it takes less time to fly the same mission. That means I can fly more missions with the TN-550F before hitting TBO. In 1,400 hours of flight time with the TN 550-F, I could make this trip 350 times vs. 311 times in the TSIO 520. The final kicker is the TN-550F doesn’t have a TBO until 1750 hours. This means I could fly this mission 114 more times in the TN-550F than I could in the TSIO 520 before hitting TBO. The Western Skyways TN-550F pays for itself not only with fuel savings, but again when combining increased true airspeed with longer TBOs. This made the decision to upgrade to the TN-550F over rebuilding a TSIO 520 an easy and logical choice.

Too Good to Be True?

If you are in the San Jose, CA area, stop by and we can test fly my plane together. Call Eric Barker from Western Skyways to get in touch with me.

Happy Flying!

Barry